#23 Dancing Under Constraints

Nerds can't dance.  I have been to enough MIT weddings not to pause in making such a blank and potentially offensive statement; for every nerd who beats the odds and looks comfortable and fluid on the dance floor, ten of his compatriots are bobbing awkwardly or watching enviously from the fringes.

I am a West Coast Swing dancer.  The person who first taught me WCS is an engineer.  The person I danced with the first time I set a toe on the dance floor is an engineer.  I've introduced quite a number of my friends to Westy, all of whom are mathematicians or engineers.  My studio's founder... is a Professor of Psychology, but you get the idea.  The floors are swarming with those whose professions tend them towards nerddom.

We have, at the very least, an odd Venn diagram.

The distinction lies in the difference between blank paper and a coloring book.  Given no constraints and the impetus to move to the music, we bob awkwardly.  Given exact technical instructions on the particular movements that will look good... we look good.  Or at least, substantially less awkward.  The feet suddenly lock into rhythm, because for some inexplicable reason alternating triple-steps with steps makes it easier.  The hands, now forced to make a lead-follow connection, no longer hang listlessly at the sides.   In short: if you want to get a nerd on the dance floor, tell him exactly what to do.

#22 MIT Mystery Hunt

The first 21 entries of this blog comprise a puzzle used in the 2011 MIT Mystery Hunt (Solution can be found here: http://ihavetofindpeach.com/puzzles/mega_man/stuff_nerd_people_like/answer/).  If the language appears stilted and odd in these entries, I choose to blame it on the awkwardness of the puzzle construction with a hint of sleep deprivation, rather than an actual inability to write coherent English.

For those not in the know, the MIT Mystery Hunt is a giant puzzling event held over MLK weekend every year at MIT.  The number of man hours that goes into constructing it is absolutely unreal--for this Hunt we wrote 129 puzzles including metas, and that doesn't even begin to touch the work that goes into organization, choosing a theme and structure, building tetrahedra out of plaster, and all the other bizarre tasks that help Hunt be the epic event that it is.

I had the idea for this puzzle the weekend before Christmas, which was rather an awkward time to have a puzzle idea as all of our answers were assigned and we didn't really need any more ideas.  The idea came to me at a test solving session when the conversation drifted to Tom Lehrer and I mentioned that I was excited to get the CDs because they had two songs not on the records.  A teammate's response was "right--Silent E and L-Y."  Which is sort of a bizarre piece of information for a person to carry around in his head, let alone two of us in a group of six.  I started thinking about all the things that make perfect sense to the nerd community that would seem insane to those outside of it, and this puzzle was born.

I wrote it frantically over that weekend, my kind an generous editors and test solvers found the myriad of bugs and red herrings in it, and one set of test solvers finally solved it.  Special thanks in particular to Aaron Dinkin who spent a lot of time making my English coherent when his time was already at a premium.  Because of its late timing, its nature of being as much activity as puzzle, and the potential for bugs we hadn't found, it was left as a floating puzzle to use as a replacement should anything fail during Hunt.  Sadly, around 6pm on Friday the puzzle Funny Farm started to take down our server and this puzzle was put in to replace it.  Funny Farm is really fun, particularly in a group, and I encourage everyone to go play with it (I'll have a url listed as soon as the puzzle is back up).

It has been noted that this puzzle has a lot of references to concepts that are used in other Hunt puzzles (ER Jokes, Breadboarding, etc).  While not explicitly intended, this shouldn't be a complete shock as one might imagine what the last months of 2010 were like for a lot of us.  In particular, as I was writing this puzzle I was sitting next to someone else test solving Electronic Love, and the "zener diode?  but I..." joke was born.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the 2011 Mystery Hunt, and congratulations and good luck to Codex--I hope you didn't need those 20,000 hours!